Early 1900s: Alfred Wegener a meteorologist, develops the theory of continental drift; that the Earth once had a single landmass that broke up into large pieces, which have since drifted apart.
1950s-1960s: Ocean floor spreading is determined as the process in which old ocean floor is pushed away from a midocean ridge by the formation of new ocean floor. Convection currents within the Earth’s mantle create new divergent boundaries as rising magma weakens continental areas resulting in rift valleys. The V-shaped rift valleys subsequently fill with water and the lava eruptions that come up through their bases cool at the surface, leveling in new ocean floor.
1960s: Theory of Plate Tectonics links the ideas of continental drift and ocean-floor spreading to explain how the Earth has evolved over time. It helps to explain the formation, movements, collisions, and destruction of the Earth’s crust.
250 million years ago the mega continent Pangaea was surrounded by ocean.
200 million years ago convection currents within the Earth’s mantle created new divergent boundaries as rising magma weakened continental areas resulting in rift valleys. The V-shaped rift valleys subsequently filled with water and the lava eruptions that came up through their bases, cooled at the surface, leveling in new ocean floor.
135 million years ago the mega continent of Pangaea diverged into three continents: North America, Eurasia, and Gondwanaland.
100 million years ago Gondwanaland diverged into South America, Africa, India and Anarctica-Australia.
45 million years ago Europe broke free from Asia and Australia broke free from Antarctica.
To the present Europe and Asia converged and connected with the northeastern portion of Africa; North and South America became linked by what we now call Mesoamerica, and India, having collided into the Eurasian plate, literally gave rise to the Himalayas (17 million years ago).
100 million years ahead The southeastern coast of Africa may disconnect from the continent; the rest of Africa may connect with Europe, Asia and India.
150 million years ahead Australia and Antarctica may connect; a new ocean may form between the southeastern coast of Africa and an extended peninsula off the southwestern portion of India.
250 million years ahead Most of the Earth’s continents may once again form into a mega continent surrounded by water, with a new ocean in its center and the Antarctica/Australia continent not far off its southern coast.
Info Source: Dynamic Earth, Chapter 3, Plate Tectonics, pp. 54-77.
MACHINE: The Machine is a theatre exercise that engages students through movement and sound to collaborate in the construction of an abstract machine. One student begins the exercise by taking a position in the playing area (designated floor space) and making a simple movement or sound (or both) that he or she will repeat throughout the course of the exercise. Another student enters the playing area and connects to the first student using a different repetitive movement or sound, thus adding a new part to the machine. Other students enter either one at a time, in pairs, or in small groupings to add movement and sound to the machine. Students continue their repetitive movements and sounds. The teacher then instructs the machine to speed up, slow down, break down, repair itself, etc. This activity promotes creative collaboration in that students share in the improvisation and actually become physically connected in the process. Like the Talk Show exercise, the Machine can also address thematic content.
After students review the Hard Rock timeline and discuss the Dynamic Earth illustrated presentation, they will improvise a machine that makes continents. Students will be coached to demonstrate volcanic activity, ocean floor spreading, and continental drift. Students will also be asked to show how the machine will make the future world of 250 million years from now when most of the Earth’s continents may once again converge when America becomes part of a mega continent surrounded by water with a new ocean in its center and the Antarctica/Australia continent not far off its southern coast.
Newcomers & Uninvited Guests
With a basic understanding of the cosmology and geology involved in creating our world, we will begin to narrow our focus to the country we live in and the early migrations, explorations and turf battles that formed America.
Students will be apprised that approximately 100 thousand years ago, humans began to migrate across the continents. This diaspora acted as a centrifugal force pushing humanity out from its center in Africa to the Middle East and Europe and eventually to Asia and the Americas. Consequently, due to genetic isolation and harsh environmental conditions, distinct and intricately diverse peoples evolved, sometimes labeled separate races.
DEUCALION & PYRRH, A GREEK MYTH: Although America is a land of many peoples and a country that coexists in a world of diverse cultures, it is not only a scientific datum that we are all descendants of a particular anthropological archetype, but a mythological, if not religious idea as well. Ancient stories about a great flood covering the Earth have come to us from various cultures around the world. Perhaps the most well-known in the west is the Biblical story of Noah. In Greek mythology there is also a deluge story wherein only Deucalion (Prometheus’ son) and Pyrrh (Pandora’s daughter) are saved by Zeus. In both accounts the respective deities in power flood the Earth, saving only the faithful. Similarly, the endings to these stories offer hope as the world is renewed and a new family of man begins: Noah’s sons venture forth to father new cultures Shem becomes the father of the Semitic people, his brother Ham, the father of African nations, and so forth. Deucalion and Pyrrh veil their heads and cast behind them the bones of their mother Mother Earth, that is and in so doing, the stones (her bones) take human form as they fall, becoming the first inhabitants of the Stone Age. Students will share in an oral reading of Deucalion (from Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths). They will discuss the similarity of this story to the Biblical story of Noah and to an even more ancient Mesopotamian flood legend (circa 3000 B.C.), which I will relay to them. In this story, the gods plan to wipe out mankind with a great flood, but they select one man and his family to be saved. They tell him to build an ark seven stories tall, which he does. He gathers the seeds of all living things and the beasts of the field. Along with these things he brings on board his gold, silver, and his family. After seven days of violent storms, the ark comes to rest on a mountain and a new beginning for mankind ensues. (Life in The Ancient World, pp. 20-21.)
We will further discuss these stories in relation to Earth’s geological transformations as well as our cosmological beginnings. Not only do legend (and/or religion) and science seem to say that humans stem from the same initial family tree on Earth, but it would seem that they also agree that we share a seemingly infinite connection as stardust from which our universe was born.
EARLY MIGRATIONS & EXPLORATIONS: Referring to the eighth-grade social studies text, Exploring American History (pp. 6-90), students will discuss some of the early migrations and explorations to America. Roughly 31,000 years after the first people settled on the North American continent having migrated across Beringia (nowadays, the Berring Strait); c. 30,000 B.C. America would be discovered by Leif Ericson, a Viking, in the year 1000, and newly discovered once again in 1492 by Cristobal Colone (otherwise known as Christopher Columbus). Subsequently this vast land mass would get its name from French geographer, Martin Waldseemüller, who mistakenly named the continent after Italian sailor, Amerigo Vespucci, which he published in an atlas thinking Amerigo to be the explorer who discovered the new world. (In 1505, several letters describing such a discovery by Vespucci had been printed in Europe; The Cosmographiae Introductio by Martin Waldseemüller; Exploring American History, p. 55.) Misnomer notwithstanding, eventually the disenfranchised as well as the profiteers of Europe would come to call this new world home as their countries disputed land rights and suffered religious conflicts. By the early 1600s, Cabot would lay claim North America for England (1497); Cortes would conquer Mexico for Spain (1519); Coronado would march across the American Southeast (1540); Raleigh would settle Roanoke Island (1585); Champlain would explore Canada (1603); Jamestown, a British colony would be founded (1607); the Pilgrims, fleeing from religious persecution, would land at Plymouth Rock (1620); and Dutchman, Peter Minuit, would purchase Manhattan Island from the Man-a-hat-ta Indians for twenty-four dollars worth of goods (1624). At about this time, Dutch and English trading ships would begin transporting Africans to North America, some first as indentured servants, but most as slaves.
TABLEAU: Drama students will learn to use movement and gesture to express ideas, situations, and emotions through pantomime and tableau. As in the Atom game, students move freely about while music is played or sung. The teacher says Freeze! whereupon the class remains frozen in place. The teacher then announces a character type (human or otherwise), such as basketball players or frogs and the class begins to move again in the character type. This process is continued for several character types chosen by the teacher. Emotions or even inanimate objects can be substituted for character types. This technique helps students to get in character and is a good warm-up for any shared oral reading.
After our review and discussion of early migrations and explorations, students will play Tableau to demonstrate the various types of people we talked about, e.g., people crossing Beringia, explorers on board a ship, Pilgrims, etc. Then they will work in small groups (of three to five students) to improvise living tableaus (human pictures) of early migrations and explorations. Student narrators will be selected to explain the events (or read from their text books), and groups of students will strike poses respectively. Minor props and costume pieces may be used in this exercise, such as: hats, a Viking helmet (should you happen to have one on hand), a cardboard tube used as a telescope, stackable wooden boxes or plastic crates to create set pieces (ships, walls, podium, etc.), and large pieces of cloth. The overall objective here is to have students gain a visceral awareness of historical events by creating a living timeline.
TURF BATTLES: Referring to the eighth-grade social studies text, Exploring American History (pp. 96-107), students will review colonial America. By 1733 the British had established thirteen colonies for England along the eastern coast of America. A little over 100 years earlier, Pilgrims previously known as Separatists since they had separated from the Church of England and had been living in the Netherlands for twelve years as a punishment from King James I for doing so took an important step towards democracy in the New World.
While sailing for Virginia, Pilgrims on board the Mayflower were blown off course. On December 11, 1620, having sent an exploring party to investigate land sighted in Massachusetts, they decided to build a village in Plymouth Harbor. Since they hadn’t landed in Virginia, and as a result were left without any laws to guide them, they drew up a document while still on board their ship. They named it the Mayflower Compact. In this document, the Pilgrims swore their allegiance to the king of England and agreed that some citizens could take part in governing Plymouth Colony. With the help of Squanto, an English-speaking Patuxet who had lived in England for nine years after his capture by an English sea captain the Pilgrims were able to survive their first winter in the New World.
At first relations between the early New England settlers and Native Americans were cooperative as they engaged in the trade of European cloth, blankets, pots, and firearms for native food and furs. In 1630, The Great Migration began, bringing over a thousand Puritans to Massachusetts Bay Colony by 1634. Puritan leaders, such as John Winthrop and John Cotton wanted to set up a holy Christian colony that lived by the teachings of Christ. Staunch in this desire, Puritans looked down on the Native Americans and believed that those who did not become Christians should be forced to leave. Some Native Americans became Christians and lived alongside English neighbors in Praying Towns. But by the early 1600s as settlers living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony increasingly demanded more of a say in government, they also increasingly encroached on the land of their native hosts. By 1637, the Pequots angered at the loss of their land and the unfriendly settlers, joined with other tribes in war against the colonists. Puritans and their allies burned down a Pequot fort, killing 400. Those Pequots remaining were mostly sold as slaves.
Forty years after the Pequot War, The Massachusetts Bay Colony tried to force its laws upon Native Americans. The colonists no longer had to rely on native help since they were better able to fend for themselves. English settlers often took land set aside for Native Americans. The Puritans tried to impose a tax on the Wampanoag tribe. As a result, in 1675, a native alliance led by Metacomet, the Wampanoag chief named King Philip by the colonists waged war. After two years of fighting, and with the aid of Uncas, chief of the Mohegans who saw the Wampanoags as rivals, the Puritans had won.
Tribal unity all but disappeared for the native people living in the New England region. In the first centuries of European contact, pandemics of smallpox, measles, and other sicknesses, against which Native Americans had no immunity, weakened any native resistance to the colonial displacement of their local communities. Failure of the colonists to appreciate the ecological resourcefulness and abiding respect for nature of the Native Americans gave rise to suffocating provincialism. The defeat suffered in King Philip’s War, which lead to the execution of Metacomet, the selling of his wife and son into slavery, and the abandonment of native Christian converts who had been sequestered on an island in Boston Harbor, basically ended these native cultures that had thrived for centuries.
FILM CLIPS - SQUANTO: Students will view a few clips from the film Squanto his capture and escape from England, and his generosity toward European settlers in the New World (his home) in spite of his ordeal. They will engage in a discussion about the difference in attitude toward land between Native Americans and their uninvited guests from England. Where Native Americans saw the land as a living entity that they learned to coexist with, colonial settlers viewed it as the prize of acquisition and the spoils of victory.
We The People & Others
Four centuries before Pilgrims took one of the first steps toward self-governance in America, King John of England was forced to sign The Magna Carta, which denied the king any power to take away the rights of the nobles (1215). By 1258, representative government began in England. The ideas of representative government and citizens’ rights were also reflected in the New World. (But with typical Eurocentric arrogance, they were reflected solely for whites.)
BEGINNINGS OF REPRESENTATIVE GOVERNMENT IN AMERICA: Referring to the eighth-grade social studies text, Exploring American History (pp. 144-149; 186-208), students will be given an overview of the beginnings of representative government in America. A year before the Mayflower Compact was signed, The Virginia’s House of Burgesses, the first assembly elected by property owners, became the first representative government in America (1619). In 1639, Connecticut settlers issued the Fundamental Orders, which guaranteed that male landowners could take a part in government regardless of their religious beliefs. The following year found Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams both banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Puritans (who practiced a kind of no-frills Christianity and ostracized those who did not share in their beliefs). Yet, Hutchinson and Williams were able to go on to build a colony based on religious freedom in Rhode Island. In 1644, Rhode Island became an official colony of England through a charter from King Charles I, which gave men the right to choose their own government and make their own laws. This charter also stated that government could not pass laws about religious matters.
The colonies expanded to support the great numbers of people from Europe who had come to this new promised land. England had opened a portal of hope and prosperity; this American dream that offered in large measure religious freedom and economic advantage. By the mid 1600s, over 20,000 colonists were living in New England. Yet, as the colonies grew, they increasingly demanded more autonomy in self-governance from their mother country and dramatically cut her apron strings by refusing to comply with long-distance governance. Early in 1776, more than 150,000 copies of Common Sense (Thomas Paine’s treatise on independence) were sold. Later that same year, Thomas Jefferson, a young lawyer from Virginia who had served as a member of the Virginia Assembly for seven years, would draft a document that would set a war in motion and at the same time, would found a new nation: The Declaration of Independence.
LIFE, LIBERTY, HAPPINESS & THEATRE OF THE ABSURD: After reviewing and discussing the above, students will focus on The Declaration of Independence (which appears in their Social Studies text, Exploring American History, pp. 204-207). Since students are introduced to The Declaration of Independence in the early grades and also do more in-depth study in eighth grade, they should already be familiar with it. Using information from their social studies text books, students will work collaboratively in small groups to brainstorm ideas for a fictional revolution. This revolution may mirror the American Revolution, but should be abstract and ridiculous. As they brainstorm, they may discover some inconsistencies in American history to draw from, such as the economical and political conflicts that suborned a nation dedicated to freedom to allow slavery and racial discrimination. The groups will take turns presenting their ideas to the class for comment and critique. In the spirit of Theatre of the Absurd a post World War II drama form that expressed the bleak sense of loss [as] described by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre when he wrote about the feeling that life is absurd (Acting & Theatre, p. 55) student groups will continue to collaborate in order to write a declaration of independence for their contrived revolutions. Two models for the kind of fiction students will be writing are Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros (where a town of people gradually turn into rhinos) and Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (where two tramps make meaningless chatter as they wait for the non-existent Godot to tell them what to do). Their final documents will require the following: 1) A preamble stating why the declaration must be made and that events have forced a people to break away from the nation ruling them; 2) The principals and ideals of the new nation being formed and the fundamental rights of its citizenry; 3) Reasons for independence due to specific offenses made by the ruling nation; 4) A formal statement of separation from the ruling nation that shows commitment and willingness to sacrifice all.
When the writing is completed, student groups will present their formal (though abstract) declarations to the class. For each presentation (probably four to five), we will discuss the merits of each piece and how it contrasts with the actual Declaration of Independence. In so doing, we will also focus on the7 incongruity in the actual declaration of a people decrying the tyranny of one country as they willfully exploited the guardians of another; the one they are claiming as their own. And, with a mounting labor force kidnapped from yet other countries on the continent of Africa, we will also discuss the hypocrisy of a document that stated “all men are created equal.” In the end, America won her independence, for which Americans living today in one of the richest countries on Earth can be most grateful. But it would take almost ninety years after the signing of The Declaration of Independence before Congress would pass the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish human slavery in this country. Such “truths” were apparently not so self-evident, and to this day are still struggling to become so.
DWINDLING NATION OF NATIONS: As America saw rockets’ red glare in a star-spangled banner with its incumbent promise of freedom, the bright lights of hundreds of Indian nations continued to flicker and fade. Within one hundred years after America gained her independence, they were all but extinguished as U.S. government boarding schools for Indians began opening up around the turn of the century. These schools were instrumental in brainwashing children to Christian ways and away from their savage roots by shearing their hair, changing their dress and forbidding them to speak their own language or practice their beliefs. Such schools were actually considered humanitarian in their day. In view of the extent of violations to the Treaty of Laramie (1868) thought by Chief Red Cloud and other Lakota chiefs to be a peace and trade agreement that would guarantee white withdrawal from the sacred Black Hills and Bozeman trail in South Dakota the internment of Indian children was, by comparison, humane. Red Cloud hadn’t read the fine print of the treaty: I am not hard to swindle because I cannot read and write (The Native Americans Illustrated History, p. 340). The Sioux also hadn’t read between the lines that the Union Pacific Railway would be forcing them off their lands. When General George Armstrong Custer made the treaty all but null and void by opening up the Black Hills to financial concerns as well as poor miners, the great Sioux War erupted. Custer certainly got his comeuppance at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. But not long after, the formidable force that had defeated him, surrendered at the Red Cloud agency in Nebraska. This surrender was led by Crazy Horse and followed by three hundred warriors and a thousand Oglala Sioux and Cheyenne, herding in twenty-five hundred ponies. (The Native Americans Illustrated, pp. 345-352.)
CENTO: Cento is a poetic form that is constructed almost as a puzzle might be. Phrases from existing poetry are gathered and arranged in an order that is pleasing and meaningful to the student. The source of inspiration we will use for our centos will be culled from The Native Americans Illustrated, which includes over a hundred poems.
RESPECT: The word respect stems from its Latin roots, re, which means again and specere, which means to look. In this context, students will be advised that respect means more than looking with one’s eyes; that in order to truly treat others with respect, we need to look again. Students will also be given a copy of the Anti-Defamation League’s Definition of Terms, which addresses various types of prejudices among people including: racism, bigotry, heterosexism and homophobia, anti-semitism, and sexism. To further demonstrate an understanding of these terms, students will engage in the Talk Show activity (see Talk Show in the Quantum Leaps section), this time improvising characters to reveal the various kinds of prejudices people can have.
Students will be advised that much of the work we have done thus far has involved respect. Using intelligence, the perceptive qualities of thought, we have looked again at our history, a past all too often consumed with violence and injustice, yet a time that also held hope for a promised land of liberty and freedom. With compassion, the vision in our hearts, we can continue to look again, before history to the beginning of the universe and the stardust of which we are made. In that vision, we may truly be able to conceptualize a future of peace and prosperity for all.
In this spirit, the section ends with a lesson from Confucius on how to become human.